Do not Covet
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17 NKJV
Jesus said, “You heard that it was said that anyone who steals his neighbour’s property is sinful. But I tell you that whoever covets in his heart has already committed theft.” Do not think that Jesus just exaggerated this or overly magnified the meaning, all on his own terms. The original commandment says that. From the first to the fourth commandment, it teaches about rules in regard to God. And the fifth commandment to the ninth is in relation to one’s deeds towards his neighbours. The Ten Commandments cover all of them.
Hence, this commandment is not talking about one’s deeds to his neighbours. It is actually speaking of how one needs to control his own heart. It is sort of repeating here. In verse 15, it says, “Do not steal,” but verse 17 again says, “Do not covet your neighbour’s house.” It also says, “Do not covet your neighbour’s wife,” but it already says, “Do not commit adultery” in the previous verse. But, this last verse is not a reiteration of those commandments. It teaches that one needs to control his heart. Control your heart that covets your neighbour’s things. Therefore, it is not dealing with a matter between you and someone else. Rather, it is about the need to control your own heart. If one fails to do that, it is a sin.
Thus, when Jesus said, “Whoever covets in his heart is a sinner,” He was referring to the Ten Commandments. He was not teaching something totally new. When we do not think deeply enough about this, we think it is not a sin. It is easy to say that in the Old Testament times, only that which was committed in action was a sin. However, it was already said clearly in the Ten Commandments that covetousness in one’s heart is a sin. This fundamental matter was already mentioned in the Ten Commandments.
If you look at another’s wife and think, “She’s beautiful. I wish I had a wife like her”, that is a sin. “I wish I had a wife who is so diligent like her.” This is a sin. “I wish I had a great husband like that, who is good to his wife and caring.” This is sinful. One is breaking the Ten Commandments in doing so. Such a person is doomed to hell.
So, how many sins are we guilty of? We may take it lightly now, but in order to live with God, we have to follow this law. This is a basic rule we have to adhere to. But even now, we are so far from it. God’s nature and our nature are so contrary. Hence, it is a big mistake if one says the Ten Commandments is not a law we must obey.
Some say that the Ten Commandments were only given for us to realize we are sinners and lead us to Jesus Christ, and not a law to obey. However, such comments are what give Berea a bad name. It is a law given to obey. In our position, we have to keep this to the point of shedding our blood. We must never be so audacious as to think that the Commandments do not need to be obeyed and that it was only given for the purpose of leading us to Jesus. Such a person will never meet Jesus. God gave Jesus to those who would struggle and endeavour to obey these words, even to the point of shedding blood. If one claims that the commandments need not be obeyed, how would he ever repent?
Thus, we have to obey this so that we do not even have the thought of coveting someone else’s property. In the olden days, servants were one’s property. Nowadays, people work for companies. To think, “I wish we had an employee like her. Kim is so efficient with her work, but what’s wrong with you?” is a sin. Or to covet another’s ox or donkey means something like this: “I wish I had a car like theirs. Our car is noisy, second-hand. I wish I had a nice car.” This is a sin. We are sinning right now. Do not covet your neighbour’s property.
When we are doing the Lord’s work, our hearts could be coveted whilst we work if we are not careful. When I was in eighth grade, I came first or second in my class. And one student who looked like a nice kid came up to me, looked me in the eye and said, “I sure am going to beat you in the next exam.” I did not know how to respond to that because it was very foreign to me and not something I was used to. But already in that young kid’s mind is that desire. I am going to beat you. But he should just try his best, not try to beat me. If you work hard enough, you might come first.
But in doing the Lord’s work, people could have this mind. “Next time I’m going to do better than the other department.” I have even heard some say, “I’m gonna make sure I become head of that particular department (mentioning the name) or become the top person in that department.” However, when we do this work, we are obeying the work that God entrusted us with. Entertaining the thought of taking someone else’s work will not be pleasing to God, for it is coveting someone else’s.
That is what the devil did. He had his own work to do, a beautiful task. Yet, he was not mindful of that work and instead looked towards something bigger, wanting to get it one day. In this world, such an attitude is regarded as a virtue. “I will work hard and one day own my own business!” Such a mindset is acceptable in this world. However, according to God’s law, that is unacceptable, especially when it comes to working in the church. We must not think in such a manner, for we are carrying out the duty entrusted to us. Even if I have to do this job for the rest of my life, I am thankful. But God is not going to just leave a person who is willing to work like that all their life. He keeps exalting the person that works humbly in the task given him. Thus, he gets entrusted with something greater. We should not covet someone else’s work.
Instead of praying that we can do greater work in the future, we ought to pray for us to be faithful in the task already given to us. I remember when I was at the Berea International Institute, the job of packing parcels seemed special to me. A person was already in charge of that, but one day this minister turns up and does the job of packing boxes for one to two years. If you think about it, he had just graduated from seminary and came to the mail team. Normally when ministers graduate from theological school, they want to start preaching sermons. Yet, this person was just packing boxes every day.
People tend to think of such tasks as petty jobs. They say as a joke that such a person is relegated to a lesser position. They have no desire for such work. But here is a secret. That person is the first contact for everyone overseas. Why? He is the one that sends and receives all correspondence. He is the point of contact for all missionaries and churches overseas because he is at the frontline of the mission work. Since he is at the frontline of mission in the church, he is always representing the church. And for the people overseas, his attitude would be understood as the attitude of the church. In other words, if he is inconsiderate in his work, the church would be thought of as being inconsiderate. If he is polite towards them, they would regard the church as treating them politely. Hence, it is so important.
As I watched people do this work, some did it well, but others grumbled about their work. And I thought to myself, “I want to do that work. If I am asked to do that job for the rest of my life, I’d be happy to do that.” I think I would do it with a cheerful heart. I wanted to make a parcel packing mission team so that people can come and experience how important packing boxes is so that they might have joy doing it.
For those who were fervent in such work, their humility is noticed by all so that later on, they are called to do greater work. Some of them have been sent to regional branch churches, while others do not work in our church anymore. There is a noticeable difference between these people. Those who worked humbly back then have now become pastors and still fervently serving. Others who grumbled and complained about being relegated to a lower position have already left our church.
Hence, we have to consider the task entrusted to us now as the best and carry it out in obedience. If we look at someone else’s work and covet it, it is a sin. As workers in the church, our attitude should be different from that of unbelievers that work in the world. We have to obey. We do what is given to us in obedience. There is no need to think that someone else’s job is better than yours so that you want to have their job. You do not have to have this kind of mind.
It says in 1 Peter 5:4-5, “God exalts the humble and resists the proud. Therefore, younger people, submit yourselves to your elders so that God may exalt you in due time. He will exalt you in due time.” That is why even Confucius said, “When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.” He said heaven would confer the task on a man. When he studied history, that is what he discovered and thus concluded.
That is right. This is the way God works. When one is under trials and hardship, when one feels as though he is going through the valley of the shadow of death, he has to remember this. For the person who has faith, those times will do him a great deal of good. He will come to know later in time that has gone through those trials had led him to be used for noble works. Yet, a proud person regards them as a curse, and thus, it ends as that. However, they are all beneficial. They become your asset. So, let us pray that through obedience, we may work most faithfully.
God our Father, help us to always be thankful for what our God has given us and never compare ourselves to others nor covet someone else’s. Help us to realize that everything entrusted to us is our duty and carry them out in faithful obedience. Our God promised that He will exalt us in due time and help us to excel in fulfilling the work entrusted to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on October 19, 2012
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team